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If you are looking for tips on how to keep kids busy and happy, then you have come to the right place.
Here’s how moms survived and kept their kids happy before iPads were invented.
It’s hard to believe that I am qualified to write about this, given that my children are only 13 and 11 years old, but alas…it’s true. Back when my kids were bubs and toddlers iPads weren’t even invented.
(That amazing moment happened on April 3rd, 2010 and I remember my first live sighting of an iPad took place when we were holidays overseas in Europe a few months later. Some fancy tech-advanced tourist was using one at a cafe and no joke – a crowd gathered around him to watch him using it. At the time my kids were aged 6 and 4.)
Fast-forward to 2018
It honestly amazes me how many babies and toddlers I see out and about nowadays with an iPhone or iPad in hand to keep them busy and distracted. No judgement intended! Indeed if the option was available to me back when my kids were younger I’m sure I would have been tempted to snap that opportunity up in a second.
But unfortunately no such luck.
An iPad and iPhone didn’t enter our home until my kids were much older and before then, they were left to their own devices to keep themselves occupied (pun intended before hey, there were actually no such devices back then!).
So how did moms survive before these little gadgets were invented? How did we keep our kids busy while out doing the groceries or shopping? How did we get our children to stay quiet while out at a restaurant or café? How did we get through the LONG days at home?
Here are my 10 tips for surviving the early years without any electronic devices.
1 – FIRST AND FOREMOST, MY KIDS DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE MISSING
Before I even talk about how I kept my children busy without the use of an iPhone or iPad, it must be noted that sometimes ignorance is bliss. Because my kids never had access to electronic devices they didn’t know what they were missing (and neither did us moms).
My kids weren’t used to having anything flashy to keep them entertained so they didn’t expect it. Instead they needed to keep themselves entertained. And because there was no alternative they did accept it.
2- BE PREPARED WHEN OUT AND ABOUT
My rule of thumb in parenting has always been “it pays to be prepared”. Sooner or later your kids are going to get bored, especially when they are young. If you are going out for a while they will eventually find it harder and harder to stay amused and they will start looking for something new to do.
For this reason alone I never left the house without a bag of backup goodies in tow for each child. Nope, I don’t mean sweets or candy. My savior during any super long day trips was a little metal tin lunchbox that I would fill with different items to keep them amused. (My daughter’s goodie box looked something like this – except back then it was Dora while my son’s looked something like this – except he was into Ben 10 back then).
I would keep these boxes in the car and regularly rotate the items in the box, so there was always something different inside. Opening up the box was always like a little surprise for my kids because they never knew what to expect.
It was my backup FUN kit; my emergency get-out-of-tantrum-or-tears-jail-card. If we were going out for more than a few hours, I would take the small box with a bonus carry handle out of the car with me. If we were going for less than a few hours, I would let them pick a few things out of it for me to carry in my bag (if I thought they would need it).
When they were preschool age and older, some of their favorite on-the-go items included: (click on item to check it out)
Real life animal figures
3D Snake Puzzle
Little People figures
Polly Pocket dolls
When they were babies and toddlers, some of their favorite on-the-go items included: (click on item to check it out)
Cute cloth books
Big building blocks
Favorite stuffed toy
3 – THE SIMPLE STUFF KEPT THEM BUSY AT HOME
You have probably already worked out that kids don’t always love some toys as much you think they will love them.
Sad but true – you can buy them the fanciest, most expensive toys and still they will gravitate to the simple stuff that is lying around the house (which of course doesn’t even resemble anything from a toy shop.)
Some of my kids’ favorite non-toy items included:
Empty cardboard boxes
Pots and pans
Bottles filled with rice to shake
Dress-up clothes (well usually just mom’s fancy clothes)
Me personally, I was always happy enough to let my kids play with whatever was lying around the house as long as it wasn’t super expensive, toxic or dangerous. Remember the rule of thumb for under 3 year olds:
If an item can fit through an empty toilet paper roll, your child shouldn’t be playing with it without constant supervision, due to the choking hazard.
4 – GOOD OLD FASHIONED COPY PAPER AND CRAYONS
What could be better than giving a child a blank piece of paper and some crayons and saying “draw for me whatever you like!”
Back when my kids were younger I would have a table and chairs set up down in the family area (just like this one). There they would always find a stack of paper and tin of crayons (which ended up as Crayola Twistables as they got older, because that is what our school recommended for kids).
The best thing about copy paper is that it costs approximately $5-$6 for 500 sheets (making each sheet worth just one cent!) and after it has spent some time featured on the fridge it can make its way to the recycling bin, which is the perfect life cycle for any item.
My secret fun tip (if your kids are obsessed with painting like my kids were):
All kids love painting but no parent honestly enjoys cleaning up that mess (does anyone, seriously? Watching those paintbrushes flick around inside the house used to send a chill down my spine – this is before I worked out that painting is for OUTSIDE THE HOUSE only).
But then I came up with this genius idea that mimicked the art of painting PLUS it could be done inside the house AND it was way more fun to do.
This simple no-fuss painting trick requires:
-Some paint-pots (clear empty containers) or even an old egg carton will do the trick.
-A few bottles of food coloring – here in Australia you can buy all the basic colors like red, blue, green, yellow and pink for $1 a pop at the local grocery store. The bottles are tiny but you only need a few drops to make this work.
-Finally some cotton ear buds.
I would fill up each pot with a very small amount of water and a few drops of coloring (making this the mock paint). Then my kids would use the cotton buds to paint with.
This was absolutely great for their fine motor skills and super cheap, effective and easy to clean up at the end of the session. The egg carton and cotton buds could be thrown away or the paint pots washed and emptied. And the best thing is these gorgeous paintings were super quick to dry (just peg them up on an indoor clothesline).
If the kids wanted something special to paint, I would just outline whatever they wanted with a black felt pen and they would color this picture in with the food coloring paint, which brings me to my next suggestion.
5 – COLORING BOOKS AND DOT-TO-DOT BOOKS
I’m not sure what your cupboards are filled with but back when my kids were young, mine were definitely overflowing with coloring books and dot-to-dot books (confession time: I actually still have heaps of these books that I pull out when any littles come to visit).
You know how cool and quirky adult coloring books became all the rage a few years ago? Well us moms, with kids on the brink of their teens, worked out a long time ago just how relaxing and therapeutic it is to sit down and color in a coloring book.
This was always one of my favorite things to do with my kids. In our home, we were never too precious about our books (that is, if both my kids wanted to color in from the same book then I would gently tear the second page out).
And if we were going out with friends this is what EVERY parent packed in their bag. My friends and I would all bring along our own contribution of books and crayons/colored pencils/Crayola Twistables and place them in a pile in the middle of the kids dinner table to share so the kids could color in something different if they felt like a change.
Even when I WAS LITTLE (now we are taking a real trip down memory lane) restaurants always provided activity or coloring-in sheets to keep the little guests happy. There’s no reason why you too can’t bring your coloring-in books when you go out to places now.
6 – THE BUSY OR QUIET BOOK FOR BABIES
This is a special point for moms with babies because I have noticed that I rarely see these types of books anymore. When my kids were little, it was almost guaranteed that a baby or toddler would receive either a quiet book or busy book as a gift upon their birth or first birthday.
(Note: if you ever have to buy a gift for a new mom this is the most beautiful gift to receive. I remember learning full well why it was called a QUIET book when my daughter was a year old, disappeared into her room and I got super scared because I didn’t hear a peep out of her for a while. It turns out she had found her new quiet book and was totally engrossed in it.)
For those who don’t know what a quiet book is (also known as busy books), it is a book traditionally made out of fabric or felt and filled with quiet activities for children to do. They feature different interactive activities such as zippers, buttons, snaps, tying a bow and flaps to lift up etc. It is also often used for special times, like at church or meals at restaurants, when children need to be kept quiet and happy.
7 – AT HOME ACTIVE FUN – HOW TO KEEP KIDS BUSY
Now that my kids are older and I survived child-rearing without the use of any electronic devices, it’s easier for me to pinpoint exactly what were the best toys that I invested in during those years (and which were our regretful purchases – hello Fidget Friend, hello Leap Frog Reading System, hello Furreal Biscuit Dog – other kids may have loved these gadgets but of course my own kids weren’t interested. Thank gosh for Ebay where we sold all our unwanted things).
After making a few mistakes with my first child, I started to look at toy purchases the same way businesses look at their investments. It was all about the ROI – my Return on Investment.
If I purchased a toy for $100 and my kids spend 50 hours playing with it (making it $2 per hour to keep them happy and busy) then I was happy with that investment. However if I spent $10 for something that they played with for 30 minutes (argh…honestly what a waste of money!)
Here are my TOP 10 FAVORITE, BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT, AT HOME FUN ACTIVE TOYS.
These toys or items all gave my kids hours and hours of fun and we didn’t part with any of these until they were well and truly done and dusted with. I would recommend every parent consider investing in something off this list of these rather than the latest craze that gets forgotten about the next day.
PLAYHOUSE – Click Here To Learn More
LITTLE TIKES CAR – Click Here To Learn More
(THERE’S ALSO A PINK VERSION) – Click Here To Learn More
INFANT TO TODDLER SWING – Click Here To Learn More
TRAMPOLINE – Click Here To Learn More
PLAY KITCHEN – Click Here To Learn More
SAND AND WATER TABLE – Click Here To Learn More
KIDS SLIDE – Click Here To Learn More
KIDS BASKETBALL HOOP – Click Here To Learn More
KIDS INDOOR TENT – Click Here To Learn More
ROLLERSKATES – Click Here To Learn More
BONUS – IF YOU HAVE THE SPACE IN YOUR BACKYARD FOR A SWING SET THIS IS GREAT
8 – AT HOME QUIET PLAY
In addition to the previous list, there are heaps of things that kept my children happy at home, without the use of electronic devices. Once again this is me reflecting back after over a decade of parenting – the following TOP 10 TOYS never failed to keep my kids occupied. They were my overall best investments when it came to toy purchases.
TOP TEN LIST OF MY FAVORITE, BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT INSIDE TOYS
(click on item to check it out)
LEGO (when older)
DUPLO (when younger)
WOODEN BUILDING BLOCKS
PLAY-DOH (add things like Googly eyes and Popsicle sticks to make it more fun)
MR POTATO HEAD
Plus the biggest winner of all – just an old-fashioned BALLS! Cheap as chips but it would always keep my kids busy for hours.
A close second is BOOKS (which admittedly wasn’t always my kids’ first choice but perfect when they needed some downtime and wouldn’t admit it to themselves). Nowadays there’s no excuse not to have a fresh collection of books for your kids ready to read at home, if you have a library nearby.
And finally my third best pick is of course BOARD GAMES. You can check out my post here where I name my TOP 10 Favorite Board Games (and no, Monopoly isn’t on the list).
SPECIAL NOTE: for babies and toddlers who are too young for some of the above choices, I highly recommend BUBBLES. When my kids were really little, they were seriously obsessed with BUBBLES – so much so that we ended up buying a cheap bubble machine and making the bubble mix ourselves. Highly recommended because it is so cheap and fun.
9- ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO USE THEIR IMAGINATION
As a kid I was always using my imagination. If I went to the shops I would collect travel brochures so I could have my own pretend travel agency at home. When my parents were building a house, I collected boring brochures on bricks and pretend to have home building business.
Because my sisters and I had no other choice back in the 1980s (there was no Netflix back then, the TV only played a few good kid shows in the morning and then again in the late afternoon and my family didn’t get a VCR until the summer I finished the sixth grade), we had to make up our own fun and keep ourselves entertained.
And guess what – there was nothing wrong with that!
The same can be encouraged in your kids too. Get them to go play outside or play pretend games with their friends or siblings. Engage with them and give them ideas – it’s 100% okay if you are the one kick-starting the idea that they pretend to be explorers, adventurers, grownups or whatever else tickles their fancy.
They can draw, write stories, build forts out of bed sheets, climb trees, play tag, look for little creatures in the garden…whatever it is they do, encourage them to engage in the world.
As for my own kid’s favorite activity that sparked their imagination it has to be a pretend doctor’s kit that my daughter received one year for her birthday (see below). More than ten years later we still haven’t tossed it away because every young kid that comes over LOVES to play with it (and it’s my favorite gift idea for kids aged between 3-6).
When it comes to your imagination, you need to remember as a parent that it’s a little bit like using your MUSCLES:
You need to use it or your lose it
Encourage your kids to dream big when they are little and they will grow up to be big dreamers when they are older.
10 – UNDERSTAND THAT BEING BORED IS FINE
Before I end this post I feel like I really need to make it clear that it’s okay for your kids to sometimes be bored.
What’s so wrong with doing nothing?
Um, nothing at all.
So please don’t be so quick to save your child from a little bit of boredom. Being bored is good for their brains!
Whenever my kids say they are bored (something that doesn’t happen too often anymore because they know exactly what my response will be) I always say:
ONLY BORING PEOPLE GET BORED
I mean, come on kids. Use your imagination. Daydream. Go explore. Be alone with your thoughts for a while.
Your kids DO NOT need to be occupied by something 100% of the time. It isn’t realistic OR healthy for anyone to expect that every single second of every single day will be filled with activity.
In fact, this need to constantly be doing “something” is like a disease or addiction that our kids need to be weaned off from.
Some alone, thinking time is great!
Kids need downtime, a chance for their minds to wander and drift away. They DO NOT need an iPad thrusted into their face at the first sign of a little boredom. How will they ever learn to cope with downtime if they are not given the opportunity to do so?
Use this list to give you some different options on what you can offer your child when he or she is looking for the iPad. Or better yet, don’t offer them anything at all and let them work it out themselves for a change.
I promise you, the world won’t fall apart if they don’t get the iPad or an electronic device. You were stronger and more resilient than that as a kid and they are too.